You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Modern Scholar: The Incas: Inside an American Empire

I've always had an interest in pre-Columbian American societies, so I picked up a copy of The Incas: Inside an American Empire at the library.

The professor gives an overview of Inca society before the Spanish conquered it. He traces the different cultures in the empire. The Incas were a people with a population of about a hundred thousands who came to dominate ten to twelve million people on the Pacific coast and Andes mountain range in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Incas had only formed their empire for about a hundred years before the Spanish took it over.

There was not a single Inca culture but many cultures that the ethnic Inca conquered or assimilated. They formed their empire through conquest, diplomacy, coercion and bartering. Force was generally a last resort. First they would try diplomacy or bartering. If necessary, they would destroy a city to make it an example for others. They often had trouble keeping the defeated populations in line, and had to deal with rebellions. Because of this, they came up with a vast system of resettlement, moving troublemakers away and dividing them. As many as one million people were relocated to other parts of the empire.

The empire was divided into four corners, northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest. The coastal areas were very dry, and the highest areas were rocky and unfit for farming. There was a lot of fertile land in between. The Incas created a system of roads and way stations to help control the empire.

The Inca king was believed to be descended from the gods. He ruled with the help of his wife, his mother and his ancestors. The dead kings were believed to still be present, and their remains were brought out for ceremonies. The kings had to deal not only with rebellious populations but also coups from their own family. In fact, part of the reason the Spanish could defeat an empire of millions with less than two hundred soldiers was because the king had recently won a civil war against his brother, and the Spanish were able to play one side off another.

The Incas developed a system of labor tax from their subjects. Men and women would gather in elaborate ceremonies where they would feast and dance, and then be assigned labor duties for the year. A farmer would be required to provide for himself and also provide a certain amount of goods for the empire.

One of the biggest tragedies of the New World is how much of the incredibly fine artifacts was destroyed or melted down. The Incas had statues made of pure gold that the Spanish melted down to finance war. Also many religious artifacts were destroyed because the Spanish believed it was related to devil worship.

The professor does a good job to describing what we know about the Inca despite there being no written records during the empire. All knowledge about the Incas comes filtered through Spanish accounts, often decades after the conquest. There will always be a mystery about Inca civilization because of this. The archaeological record is improving though. The lecture course illustrates a rich history. B+


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